Journey to first meeting

Paula was painfully aware of what she would wear that Sunday. She wanted to make her attire as discreet as possible. She was going to a political meeting and she was afraid. When she finally got out of the house, she looked both ways as usual. Only this time she was watching out for police cars. Then she thought if she was going to be followed by police, it would not be so obvious, probably. She walked to the bus stop as usual, convinced that some one was following her. She knew it was all irrational. But she had learned about a political meeting in a public forum after all, and now she was heading there.

Paula could now afford using the underground, but on the one hand the tube station was further away from her house than the bus stop, and although buses were so much slower, she found them cleaner and of course more entertaining to peek from.

The conviction of being followed did not go away when she got on the bus.

She saw a cyclist from the bus and she once again envied how fast they went. She had had a puncture recently and she had not managed to fix it yet. As the cyclist disappeared speedily even in the empty streets, she decided to bring her own bicycle to some shop to have the puncture fixed.

She had to change buses once in central London. She did not see any one person or any one car in her sight for the whole time she was waiting for her next bus, so she relaxed a bit. It was unlikely some one would follow her and take so much pain to remain unnoticed.

The second bus journey was shorter than the first one, but slower, so it took almost as long. As usual already in that city, she had got out of the house in broad daylight and she would arrive at her destination in dark night. At least travelling by bus allowed her to experience the transition. It made her deeply depressed to get into the underground in daylight and find night darkness when coming out.
She double-checked on her A-Z map as she walked. It was the same book she had bought two years earlier and she had been using it daily, so some pages had been inevitably detached from the rest of the book and she had to hold it with both hands to keep the pages together. She was relieved to see that the street that had been announced in the forum actually existed, both in her map and in the street sign she was now seeing.
She turned round the last corner.
And then she saw it.
A police car.
A police car had its car lights on, although in silence, right outside the pub where she was heading. Her heart stopped functioning, and so did her brain. Her legs, however, continued walking at the same pace as before. (“Might as well”, thought Paula, “because it would have been well suspicious if I had stopped back there. What do I do now? Do I pretend I have taken this turn by mistake? Do I walk past it all casually pretending I was not coming here? But I “am’ in that internet forum, they know I know about this place, and I have no other reason to be here. Then, what will happen if I just don’t get in? When will be the next time they announce another meeting? They may never announce it. It took them months to announce this one, didn’t it?”)

Paula decided to avoid looking at the police car and got inside the pub.

Luckily there were no police inside the pub. At least, no police officer in uniform. But then, would any of these punters qualify as a potential police officer in plain clothes? Paula had no idea. She looked at their faces. Which was easy, because now every one of the customers in that pub had their faces turned to her.

The pub was a typical English pub, only not as luxurious as some of the pubs she had worked in. there was carpet all over the pub including some stairs leading somewhere upstairs, but it was so worn out, she thought she could see the wood underneath in some places. Or may be it wasn’t the wood and it was some dark stain. She couldn’t tell because it was pretty dark. There were plenty of light bulbs all over the ceiling, but none of them was bright enough to give the place a feeling of well lit atmosphere.

There were small tables against one of the walls, and back benches perpendicular to the walls. It gave that part of the pub a strange train-like feeling. There were also benches against the walls, with tables in front of them and stools on the other side of the tables.

Three old men sat in one of the train-like compartments. Another old man sat on his own on one of the back-less stools. And three other old men sat on the tall stools at the bar. They all looked at her and stayed looking at her until she reached the bar, at which point Paula managed to ignore the men and centred her attention on the bar tender, a woman younger than the old men but older than Paula.

Paula spoke making a huge effort to speak loud enough for the bar tender to hear her, but most importantly, soft enough to not be heard by the old men.
“Is there a meeting in this pub?”
“They are upstairs.”
The bar tender made no effort to speak softly. She was obviously used to this. Also, her glance told Paula that she was not welcome to walk away from the bar without at least a drink on her hand.
“Can I have a lemonade, please? No ice, please.”
“No thanks.”

The Metro (newspaper)

Before she found out just how close to her house the bus stop was, and the fact that the one bus on that bus stop had another stop right outside her workplace, Paula learned the long way to the ‘underground’ station to go to work. ‘Underground’ because the train travelled completely over the ground on the whole journey from Paula’s stop to work stop.

Paula was thankful for this. It was definitely nicer to travel by train if she could see the light of day while inside the train. Some days, she even brought a book with her that she had got from the library. But she soon abandoned this practice because the journey was so short. Most of the other passengers had longer journeys, however. Some of them got on the train on the stop where she left, before the train would head for deep, central London.

So most of the passengers fought for a sit so that they could comfortably read their books, which they had brought from home, or their newspapers, which they had bought in the newsagents at the tube station.
Until one day all this changed. Suddenly one day Paula got on the train and the scene she encountered seemed taken from a horror movie. No one was reading any book from home, and no one was reading any newspaper from the newsagents. Every one was reading copies of the same newspaper. Every one was holding it in the same way, with both hands. So she could see the first and last pages, all the same, on the hands of every one now in the train. She looked at the name of the paper.


The letters were white on a blue rectangle at the top left hand side of the front page. The papers were the same size as a standard European newspaper, known in this country as “tabloid”, as opposed to “broadsheet”, which was various times the size of a normal newspaper and which was impossible to read all spread out, like these people were reading their papers now, without seriously disturbing the people around.

Paula noticed that herself and the very few passengers who had got on the train at the same stop as herself were the only ones without a copy of this new newspaper. She also noticed that, although they were trying to hide it, the other passengers were as scared as them.

She later knew that this was the first free newspaper given out at tube stations (only her own tube station would take ages to be provided with its own stacks of said newspaper). And that this first free newspaper would inspire very similar ones not only in other cities of Britain, but of the rest of Europe too.

But at the time, she felt first scared at the whole surreal scene, then weird and then slightly annoyed that copies of the newspaper were not provided at her tube station and she always had to rely on other passengers abandoning their copies on the train if she wanted to read it herself. There were not that many copies distributed at the beginning and even in the office it became an item of exceptional sharing, on the days when at least one of them workers had managed to secure a copy of the thing.

Trueque. LETS

en castellano más abajo

Paula always remembered Aisha in several occasions more but she was especially grateful for what she had taught her every time she had to move house and had to look for things like where the church or the market were.

Paula’s land lady was surprised that she asked her where the library was. People usually asked her where the pub, the shops, the gymnasium were; sometimes even the church. Paula had learned, thanks to Aisha, that the most interesting and least commercial things of the neighbourhoods of London were announced in the libraries.

Registering was one of the first things that she did. Also, with almost the same excitement that she found the fair trade store two years earlier, she found a group of exchange-without-money. People who exchanged services or things, services or things, as Luna had explained.
She wrote to the address that was on the cardboard note on the bulletin board ‘of the Community’ and she was sent a few forms in which she had to say what it could offer and what she needed. She offered translation services which then turned out that nobody needed, but when he was sent the confirmation of her subscription and with her what other people offered and required, and this encouraged her to offer assistance at festivals and occasional babysitting services.


Paula se acordó en varias ocasiones más de Aisha pero especialmente agradecida de lo que le había enseñado estuvo cada vez que se mudó de casa y tuvo que aprender a buscar cosas dónde estaba la iglesia o el mercado.

La casera de Paula se sorprendió de que le preguntara dónde estaba la biblioteca. La gente le solía preguntar dónde estaba el pub, las tiendas, el gimnasio, a veces hasta la iglesia. Paula había aprendido, gracias a Aisha, que las cosas más interesantes y menos comerciales de los barrios de Londres estaban anunciadas en las bibliotecas.
Inscribirse fue una de las primeras cosas que hizo. Además, con la misma emoción con la que encontró la tienda de comercio justo dos años antes, encontró un grupo de trueque. Gente que intercambiaba servicios o cosas, tal como había explicado Luna.
Escribió a la dirección que ponía la cartulina pegada al tablón de anuncios “de la comunidad” y le enviaron unos cuantos formularios en los que debía decir lo que podía ofrecer y lo necesitaba. Ofreció servicios de traducción que luego resultó que nadie necesitaba, pero cuando le enviaron la confirmación de su suscripción y con ella lo que ofrecía y requería otra gente, se animó a ofrecerse como canguro ocasional y ayudante en fiestas.

First bicycle, second hand

For the second and last time in a long time in London, Paula bought the Loot newspaper (for the last time). She was finally looking for a bicycle. She now lived about five miles away from work; the ideal distance to travel it by bike. Although she was not sure how comfortable she would be with the traffic, with the exercise. Still, if she managed to do that trip three times a week, she would save money in her travelcards. Even though she was only using bus passes mainly now.
There were more bicycle shops advertised on that paper than single second hand bicycles. Faced with such lack of choice, she checked out a couple of shops. Only one of them offered her a second hand bicycle. How much is that second hand bike, please? A hundred and fifty pounds. Hmmm. A lot of money. About fifteen weeks worth of a bus pass. As in, thought Paula, I will have to go on this bike to work every single day for fifteen weeks in order to recover the investment.
Paula had used a bicycle as a child. But it was a summer toy, and never a proper, needed means of transport. She was not sure she would be able to use it that often, that much. A hundred and fifty pounds was a huge amount of money especially taking into account that she may still have to spend that much on transport if she would not be able to cope with the traffic.
She told the shop assistant that she would think about it.
Then she called the one advert that was offering a single bicycle. Second hand, from a place in the outskirts of London. Fifteen pounds. A tenth of the price of the bike in the shop. Which admittedly was a beautiful bike that looked pretty first hand to Paula. But it was enough to use this other bike for a bit more than two weeks to recoup the money.
With time, Paula ended up having to spend about a hundred pounds having the many things that this bike needed fixing which she of course could not fix herself (“Sorry, darling, I sold you the bike in good faith, and you bought it in good faith, no I am not accepting a return”, had said the seller when she called to complain about all the things that did not work.
Paula grew to regret the decision of not getting the better bike, but that was many years ago, when she saw that of course she could use a bike every single day, and many bikes later.
But for the time being, Paula had a bike almost bigger than herself for a few years. She put mudguards on it after getting one of her office shirts rendered unusable after having it splashed with road water on a rainy day, she bought lights and she bought reflector clothing. She also bought a helmet. And a rack that she never managed to attach to the bike because the bike was not designed to have a rack on it.
Still, when Paula’s mum came to visit her, she proudly showed her her most valuable possession, her private means of transport.

Room hunt

Living with her landlady had not the best decision but she wouldn’t learn the lesson yet. In any case, she had only lasted there four months. Now she would have to move Tilda’s things with her to her new place, but that was the biggest of her worries. The biggest would be to find that new place. And she had less than three weeks.
Paula spent the next two weeks buying the Loot to find a room but there were ever only two or three rooms each week within her budget. Her colleague suggested to get the paper first thing in the morning, at six or so, to get the best chance. She did that too but could not keep up during the day, calling back landlords who had left a message in their answering machine. She was not allowed to make personal calls during working hours.
She took a day off from her holiday. She bought the paper at six in the morning and started to ring. At nine, phones started to give an answer. She arranged visits for later in the day. She went to one next to work. That was ideal location. The room was grim. Hardly enough room for the single bed. A wardrobe in the corridor, too small even for her bare two cases. And it was above budget, she had only come to visit it because it was so close to work. In another place, the room had too many wardrobes.
“There is not enough room in my room for a wardrobe, so I will keep it in your room. That is why you will have two wardrobes, one I will be using.” Paula stared at the landlady. “You already knew that, I mentioned in on the phone.” Paula controlled her stomach to hear more.
“You can use the washing machine on weekdays, because I can only use it during the weekend.”
Paula was already exhausted when she arrived to Richmond, to inspect the only room in south west London available that day for less than seventy pounds a week.
She identified the smell of food that was so London and yet so foreign, the moment that old lady opened the door. She led her up the narrow, carpeted stairs. The light was dim and the red on the carpet and the indefined colour of walls and ceileing did not help. A girl came out of a door Paula had missed on the way up.
A cat crossed the landing before they arrived. At the end of the corridor, another three cats looked at them from a kitchen.
“How many people share that kitchen?”
“My eleven cats, the thirteen girls who live here and myself. We are like a family.”
Paula did not need to see the room that was vacant to decide she could not live there. It was claustrophobic and it felt like this old lady was running some kind of harem. It would have been rude to refuse to see the room, so she allowed the old woman to open that door. She observed there was no keyhole. Paula mumbled some comment and the old lady snapped:
“Of course. It is my house. I need to keep an eye in all the rooms.”
she disguised her dissapointment until she was let out of the house, promised to come back once she could make a decision and broke down once outside. She did not stop walking until she found somewhere suitable and private enough to sit down. Then she cried.
It was not very late but it was winter time, so it had been dark for a few hours. The street was not busy, and if there had been people passing, she had not seen them. Then one man passed and asked her if she was all right. She just wanted to be left alone to cry.
“Yes, I’m all right.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” (I’ll just be even better when you disappear and I can continue crying)
She got back to the public transport system and was conscious that the day was over when she twisted one of her feet as she walked home from the last stop. The deadline to vacate the house was approaching and she hadn’t even found a half acceptable room. She remembered how, when she was little, she had wondered, “where will I be in 2000?” and she responded to the little girl now gone: Here I am. Looking for another room because my landlady is chucking me out. You didn’t expect me to be like this, did you?

She started to cry again in desperation when her phone rang. One of the landladies that had not answered their phone now wanted to make an appointment for the following day.


“Obviously this is not working”, the note read. Paula was coming from a late night at work to find a note stuck on her door. She had asked her landlady to leave letters addressed to her in the living room rather than getting into her bedroom while she was away, but she had not thought this would cause such bad vibes with the landlady. She had even packed away all her candles, and had babysat her landlady’s daughter for free as a further gesture of goodwill.
“I am hereby requesting you to vacate your room within a month. That would be before the 5th of January 2000. If you do not, I shall be obliged to dispose of your possessions …”
Paula noted that her landlady knew full well that she was going to go to Spain for Christmas. So that meant she had to find another place and move before the 20th of December, the date of her flight. Paula went to bed feeling sick.
The next morning she made a point of talking to the landlady.
“You knew I have my ticket to Spain already booked.”
“And that I was going to spend a few weeks there.”
“Now I will have to move my stuff within two weeks if I want to avoid you throwing it away.”
“I have paid you already the whole month in advance. So now you have my deposit money and the whole month. Are you going to give me back the rent for those two weeks that I will not be here?”
“The notice is for the fifth of January. Whether you choose to vacate it earlier, it is your own business.”
“So you are stealing that money from me.”
“That is your opinion.”

First move

It took Paula two hours to get to work after her first night staying in her second address in London. The maps didn’t guide her the way they should have and it took her double the time. So she had moved closer, but the train fares were not cheaper and her journey time was not much better. True, she lived in a house now. She would no longer depend on office hours to collect her post. She would no longer have to pay two pounds to use the washing machine. And she only had to share the kitchen with one person – her landlady.

“How is the new place?” Asked her boss.
“It’s good, thanks.”
“Did it take you shorter?”
“Actually, no. But I am planning to get a bicycle and it will take me shorter.”
It was true. She had not been allowed to have a bike in the hostel. She had no idea how she would get a bike, but she would. Somehow.

Luna leaves

‘¿Cuándo dices que te vas, Luna?’
‘A ver. Me lo has preguntado tres veces hoy ya.’
‘Lo siento, se me ha olvidado.’
‘Pero es que cansa ya, Paula.’
‘Me lo voy a apuntar. De verdad que si me acordara no te lo preguntaría otra vez.’
‘Apunta. Y que sea la última vez.’
‘Vale. ¿Cuándo entonces?’
‘El martes por la tarde.’
“Ah, sí. Pero tenías que salir por la mañana, no?”
“Sí. Pero no tan temprano como te vas tú.”
Paula salía de la habitación hacia las ocho, cuando aún no entraban los rayos del sol por las ventanas de aquel medio sótano.
“Por eso querrías que no te despierte cuando me vaya y que te deje dormir, y luego ya te levantarás y te vas haciendo la maleta una vez que estés sola.”
Luna sonrió con su sonrisa sarcástica.
“Ves, de eso ya me acuerdo. De lo que no me acuerdo es de los detalles.”
“Así que nos despedimos el lunes por la tarde, noche.”
“Así que te marcharás mientras yo meto datos.”
“Así que no te quedas a vivir aquí.”
“No, Paula!”
“Vale vale!”

Se despidieron la noche de un lunes y cuando Paula salió del cuarto la mañana del martes, lo dejó como había estado todo ese tiempo, aunque se había ido llenando poco a poco con las pocas compras que hicieron. La noche del martes se lo encontró tan vacío como nunca se había encontrado Paula un cuarto hasta entonces.

La cama de Luna, su armario, su silla. Paula se sentó en su propia silla y recorrió con la mirada todas las zonas que por acuerdo habían sido dominio de Luna. La pared junto a la cama de Luna había sido una pared única, con fotos únicas y dibujos que ella había pintado. Solo había dejado el calendario confeccionado por ella misma. Ahora solo era una pared cualquiera. La ventana donde había colgado parte de su ropa ahora solo tenía la cortina. La pared que habían compartido para poner más fotos ahora tenía una mitad desnuda. Todas aquellas desnudeces miraban a Paula y se la su ausencia. En la pared ya no estaban las fotos de Luna y Jose que había pegado Luna. Solo estaban las de Paula y Luna en Hamstead, Paula y Luna en Greenwich. Dos amigas en Londres. Ya no. Ahora estaba otra vez sola.

A Paula se le nublaron los ojos.

Shopping picture

“What, you have been here for a month and you have not gone shopping on Oxford Street?”
Luna and Paula looked at Tilda. Then Luna and Tilda looked at Paula.
“You ‘do’ need some new clothes.”
“I can’t afford them.”
“Yes you can.”
“It is not my priority.”
“Come on, we go to some shops. You look. If you don’t like anything, we stop. Deal?”
“No. But I have little choice, don’t I?”
“No choice, that’s what you have.”
“I am tired. I have been working all week.”
“That’s not an excuse.”
“I ‘am’ tired!”
“You can get a rest when you die. You come with us now.”

Paula did accept that this was a good point. After all the Spanish friends who had left London for good, she had learnt to enjoy whatever company she had while it lasted and try make the most of it. Tilda and Luna would not be in London forever and between staying and resting, and getting more tired walking on Oxford Street with them, she agreed to postpone rest for the time being. It took them about an hour to get off the bus on Oxford Street. Paula had no preference for any particular shop. She just let herself be dragged along.
“See, now ‘this’ is a t-shirt worth wearing at work.”
“It is too nice for work.”
“Then you put them on for parties.”
“I do not go to parties.”
“Paula, you are impossible.”
“No I am not.”
“Do you like this one?”

Eventually Tilda and Luna got tired before Paula had had enough. Eating out was not an option but getting a bus home was.
“Wait, let me take the last picture!” Luna looked at a fixed point and Tilda and Paula followed her glance. Two men stood one on each side of a shop door, each talking on their mobile phone, hopefully each on a different conversation. It was a funny sight and Luna got her camera out. Too late though. One of the men finished his conversation and disappeared into the shop. Far from looking disappointed, Luna looked at Tilda with a smile.
“You have a mobile phone don’t you? So does Paula. Now, you two. Stand on each side of that shop. Good. Paula, look to your left. Tilda, look to your right. Look up, both of you. Paula, not like that. You need to pretend you are talking on the phone. Look, like Tilda is doing. Yes. Now look up again. OK stand there for a bit. Nice. A bit more … OK thank you so much you too.”
Tilda laughed. Paula was not sure what she was laughing at but she had to admit the situation was funny.
“Tilda, you really looked like a disgusting posh model on the phone, and bored.”
Paula expected a compliment too.
“You didn’t look so good.”
“I think we looked just fine. The finest example of rampant bored and empty consumerism.”

Luna’s hair

en castellano más abajo

Paula had seen many beautiful sunsets, but that evening it was especially beautiful. Maybe the colours were brighter, or maybe the air was cleaner. Or it may just be that she was sitting in the park with Luna and Tilda. Luna was taking pictures of them, but especially of Tilda. Tilda always looked the best of the three in pictures and on the mirror. But today she had put make up on for pictures. She needed a portfolio – she had one but she needed to constantly update it, she explained, if she wanted to get a better job as a professional dancer. So she would probably use some of those pictures for her portfolio. Paula was worrying that the light was going away. At the same time, she enjoyed every second of it, and she enjoyed it even more every time she remembered it from then on. One of those, so sweet memories for a lifetime. Tilda had such a nice hair, and her beauty was so apparent that day. She had made up her eyelashes with a deep black mascara to make sure they would be well marked in the photos.

At one point, Tilda took her shoes off and sat barefooted on the grass and the light was perfect. Luna does not have a copy of that perfect picture any more. She sent Tilda the negatives and copies so that she could use them for her portfolio.

As she took pictures with her camera, the sun beams made Luna’s hair even more bright and orange. And just when every one thought Tilda was making love to the camera, she snapped:
“My God Luna. Your hair is so beautiful.”
“So orange. So bright.”
Luna left her camera on the tripod and when she was sure it would stay there untouched, she put her hands on her hips and bent the upper part of her body to the left. Then back up, then to the right. Then to the left again. Her hair moved above her head with the movement.
“What the hell are you doing, Luna?”
“I am displaying my hair for you so that you can appreciate better its beauty.”
She stopped. She was smiling with her own unique grin.
“Have you appreciated it as you like, or shall I move it more?”


Paula había visto muchas puestas de sol, pero esa tarde estaba especialmente hermosa. Tal vez los colores eran más brillantes, o tal vez el aire estaba más limpio. O pudiera ser simplemente que estaba sentada en el parque con Luna y Tilda. Luna les sacaba fotos a las tres, pero obre todo a Tilda. Tilda siempre estaba la más guapa de las tres en las fotos y en el espejo. Probablemente Tilda utilizaría algunas de e aquellas fotos para su portafolio, y ella era la única que necesitaba uno.

Mientras sacaba fotos con su cámara, los rayos de sol hicieron el pelo de Luna aún más brillante y naranja. Y justo cuando Paula y Luna pensaban que Tilda estaba haciendo el amor a la cámara, Tilda espetó:

“Dios mío, Luna. Qué pelo tan bonito.”
‘Tan naranja. Tan brillante.»

Luna dejó la cámara en el trípode y cuando estuvo segura de que estaba estable, puso las manos sobre las caderas y dobló la parte superior de su cuerpo a la izquierda. Luego volvió a ponerse recta, y luego se dobló de nuevo a la derecha, y luego a la izquierda otra vez. Su pelo se movió por encima de su cabeza con el movimiento.

‘¿Qué coño haces, Luna?’
‘Te enseño mi pelo para que puedas ver y apreciar mejor su belleza.»
Se detuvo. Sonreía con su sonrisa única.
‘¿Lo has apreciado bien, o lo muevo más?’